“Turn To Him The Other Cheek Also” An Essay on Liberation Theology

jametlene-reskp-271790-unsplash.jpg

We are all familiar with the following Bible verse about turning the other cheek:

But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, and pray for those who mistreat you. If anyone hits you on one cheek, let him hit the other one too; if someone takes your coat, let him have your shirt as well. Give to everyone who asks you for something, and when someone takes what is yours, do not ask for it back. Do for others just what you want them to do for you.” -Luke 6:27-31

On the individual level, this humility and selflessness is admirable. But according to the political line of the early Bolshevik party, as espoused by Bukharin in The ABCs of Communism,

“…the Christian code runs: ‘Whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.’ In most cases there is an irreconcilable conflict between the principles of communist tactics and the commandments of religion. A communist who rejects the commandments of religion and acts in accordance with the directions of the party, ceases to be one of the faithful. On the other hand, one who, while calling himself a communist, continues to cling to his religious faith, one who in the name of religious commandments infringes the prescriptions of the party, ceases thereby to be a communist.”

But Bukharin, and any other socialist or Marxist who defends this ultra-leftist semi-feudal attitude towards religion, fails to understand the underlying philosophy and basic principles of the Christian faith. Christianity in no way supports “turning the other cheek” to systematic forms of oppression and exploitation with no underlying socioeconomic justification of their social existence.
It can be said that the attitude Christianity takes towards this question is as follows, “If you oppress me or strike me as an individual, I shall turn the other cheek. But if you oppress or strike my neighbor, my brother, or my sister, and do so on a systematic basis, then I will not hesitate to deliver them from the yoke of oppression you have forced upon them”.
This is a principle that is fully in line with the basic tenets of the Christian faith:
“This is what the LORD says: “Uphold justice and righteousness. Deliver from their oppressor those who have been robbed. Don’t mistreat or do violence to the alien, the orphan, or the widow, or shed the blood of innocent people in this place.”
-Jeremiah 22:3
Taking into context the historical materialist view on human history, it is no surprise that the Bolsheviks took a hostile attitude towards religion and the church, especially given the backward state of the Russian Empire. The ruling class of each age uses religion, as it uses every other instrument available in the existing superstructure of society, to legitimize its social rule and existence as a class regardless of the actual principles of a religious faith which often are directly opposed to the ‘ethics’ and ideas of the ruling class. But the Bolsheviks did not oppose religion on this basis, on the basis of the Russian Orthodox Church’s reverence of the Tsar as holy, of its antisemitism, of its persecution of protestants and atheists alike, of its semi-feudal and bourgeois character. On the contrary, it opposed religion as such, as a matter of principle. This was one of the most tragic mistakes of the Bolshevik party, a mistake I have elaborated on ceaselessly before.
Take for instance the sign of the cross. What is the cross? In ancient times the cross was not a religious symbol at all, on the contrary, it was a symbol of the political repression and state terror of the Roman Empire. It is easy to forget this fact after 20 odd millenniums of human social development, but the adaptation of the symbol of the cross by the adherents to the Christian faith was the radical transformation of a weapon of the oppressor into the weapon of the oppressed. This is precisely what Liberation Theology and Christian Communism attempts to do today. It takes Christianity, which has been converted by the bourgeoisie into a tool to justify its own existence and oppression of the poor, and it converts it into a weapon of the oppressed to be used against the oppressor. Not only does it do that, but it abolishes the ruling class character of Christianity which has been used to distort the principles of Christianity and  justify oppressive social systems for nearly 2000 years. It brings Christianity back to its roots, which are undeniably communistic in nature.
According to Rosa Luxemburg, in her pamphlet Socialism and the Churches (a pamphlet I recommend anyone interested in this topic to check out),

“The Social-Democrats want to bring about the state of ‘communism’; that is chiefly what the clergy have against them. First of all, it is striking to notice that the priests of today who fight against ‘Communism’ condemn in reality first Christian Apostles. For these latter were nothing else than ardent communists…”

After going into great detail as to the specifics of the communistic nature of the early Christians and the Christian faith, she reiterates her attack on bourgeois Christianity, an attack we can say is still valid against the mainstream, conservative Christianity of today,

“But it is in vain that you put yourselves about, you degenerate servants of Christianity who have become the servants of Nero. It is in vain that you help our murderers and our killers, in vain that you protect the exploiters of the proletariat under the sign of the cross. Your cruelties and your calumnies in former times could not prevent the victory of the Christian idea, the idea which you have sacrificed to the Golden Calf; today your efforts will raise no obstacle to the coming of Socialism. Today it is you, in your lies and your teachings, who are pagans, and it is we who bring to the poor, to the exploited the tidings of fraternity and equality. It is we who are marching to the conquest of the world as he did formerly who proclaimed that it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven.”

She finishes by stressing, directly in opposition to the ultra-leftist, semi-feudal attitude of the Bolsheviks, the compatibility between religion and socialism saying,

“And here is the answer to all the attacks of the clergy: the Social-Democracy in no way fights against religious beliefs. On the contrary, it demands complete freedom of conscience for every individual and the widest possible toleration for every faith and every opinion. But, from the moment when the priests use the pulpit as a means of political struggle against the working classes, the workers must fight against the enemies of their rights and their liberation. For he who defends the exploiters and who helps to prolong this present regime of misery, he is the mortal enemy of the proletariat, whether he be in a cassock or in the uniform of the police.”

Christianity teaches love, humility, forgiveness, mercy and justice at the same time. These principles are not hypocritical to one another, but rather they express themselves dialectically in the living action of the holy spirit as embodied in the believers of Christianity and its teachings. The philosophy this embodies best is not a Kantian resistance to all forms of liberation struggles on the grounds of universal standpoint of morality as many on the right-wing claim, but rather an adherence to taking whatever path causes the least possible social harm to others. On an individual level, it would be harmful and morally indefensible to lash out violently against someone because a wrong or form of oppression they caused you. This is what turning the other cheek means. Many ultra-leftists fail to understand this principle. They sink into degeneracy and moral cowardice, they abandon the basic ethics of socialism and Christianity alike when they enthusiastically celebrate the death or killing of a police officer or a capitalist or a landlord- as if the crimes of an entire social class manifest themselves entirely into a single individual, a product of the world they were born into, who probably never questioned the fundamental superstructure of society at all! Such despicable “celebratory remarks” are innately anti-socialist in character.

It is on the social basis alone that socialism wages the class struggle, that the ethics of Christianity wholeheartedly support. It seeks, yes, first and foremost to liberate the poor and oppressed, but its goal is the liberation of the whole of humanity without exception. It seeks to make life better for all and not merely for the oppressed. It does this for the former oppressor on a spiritual level, if not a material one. By abolishing the antagonism of social classes, socialism reconciles the former bourgeoisie and the former proletariat into a single class, the working class, and thereby it creates a classless society. This represents even for the former bourgeois, a liberation from the immorality of exploitation and the moral bankruptcy caused by living off of the labor of the poor. This represents also, the abolition of the social conditions which cause the petty-bourgeois to go bankrupt and homeless after a business they start fails, or when the investments a bourgeois has placed into a single company collapses in a stock market crisis, bringing the sum total of an entire life’s work to naught. Socialism and Christianity support the class war because it causes the least possible social harm.

Some would argue that Christianity and Communism are incompatible on the grounds of the “violence” revolutionary socialism has historically employed. Ignoring the pacifism of some socialists, we must say that if socialism utilizes positive violence, it does so as a tragic necessity (and it rarely does so). It does so only as a reaction to, and in an effort to stifle counter-revolutionary violence. Socialism seeks to abolish the negative violence represented by the toil and sweat, cold and homelessness, heartbreak and hidden tears of the oppressed, of the working class and the poor. Socialism struggles to make the state itself superfluous, the organization in our society with a monopoly on violence that forcefully maintains the existence of class society. Negative violence is itself a form of violence. As fellow comrade and Christian Communist blogger Christian Chiakulas (who’s blog you can find here) said,

“In a world that produces enough food to feed each and every one of us, starvation is violence.  In a society where vacant houses outnumber homeless people six to one, homelessness is violence.  A country in which health insurance companies rake in billions in profits while leaving nearly thirty million people uninsured and unable to access medical care is a violent society.

This is the everyday violence of capitalism – if it is profitable to let somebody die, or languish in abject poverty, we do so.  That is a violent society.”

Christianity opposes violence as a tactic when at all possible, but when the path to reconciliation of a social contradiction that is profoundly violent can only be reconciled by a lesser violence alone, that is the path it takes. Non-action is itself a form of action, it is better to act and cause a little harm than to refuse to act, and in moral cowardice, cause a far greater harm by not acting. This is the moral justification on which Christianity has supported just wars over the centuries. This moral justification is no different when it comes to socialist tactics. It does not, as no socialist should, glorify or fetishize acts of violence. But it does not take a liberal Kantian attitude towards the question either.

Jesus said “turn to him the other cheek also” because non-action in this case causes the least possible social harm. Despite the claims of various ruling classes over the centuries, Christian ethics is not and never has taken such a position of non-action towards social and systematic forms of oppression and exploitation, at which point the slogan “liberate the oppressed from the oppressor” comes into play. If a form of oppression or exploitation are historical necessities (as slave, feudal, and bourgeois society was), Christianity sought to reduce the violence associated with this antagonism on the individual and systemic level, even if the ruling class hijacked Christianity for its own ends. It did this because we live in a “fallen world”, in an effort to cause the least amount of harm possible. It did not take a Utopian stance towards a revolution during the early Roman Empire. It did seek to build a communist society within the community of believers by peaceful means, who held all property in common. Even if the experiment failed and had no social basis to succeed, the first act of the early Christians was an attempt to establish a communist society. Christianity has never been opposed to struggles for social justice or liberation. Because we have the means to realize the communistic society the early Christians hoped to build, to eradicate poverty, hunger, and homelessness on a global level, Christians and socialists alike should support the fight to realize such a society. There ought to be no contradiction between socialism and Christianity. The symbol of the cross alone repels the advocates of continuing the existing order of misery and oppression. Let the symbol of the cross bury the present bourgeois society as it buried the Roman Empire! Let that be the slogan of Christianity today!

Atheism and Trotskyism: Both Negations of certain Ideology’s, Both Attacked For Similar Reasons

Atheism is the negation of religion. Trotskyism is Marxism and Leninism with the negation of “Marxism-Leninism”, i.e., Stalinism. Both atheism and Trotskyism are defined by the fundamental negation of an aspect considered “normal” of the thing of which they are a part of, i.e. theology or Leninism (Marxism in the era of imperialism).
 
This negation is precisely what makes people uncomfortable, because it is a the negation of what many consider to be a fundamental aspect of the thing, and this is what what defines the ideology in question, i.e., the negation.
 
But many atheists would consider the ideological negation of religion in the fields of reason and morality a fundamental aspect of these fields, as a necessary negation due to the immorality of religious fundamentalism, the illogic of faith, etc, etc. While some may not agree, this is the view of the atheist, and this position is not taken up without reason (no pun intended).
 
Similarly, a comparison can be made with Trotskyism. Trotskyists agree with the necessity of Leninism, i.e. Marxism in the age of imperialism, i.e. the contributions to Marxist thought made by Lenin. They defend the genuinely democratic gains of the Russian Revolution. However, the negation is found with Lenin’s successor, Stalin, and all the ideological extensions of Marxism-Leninism after Stalin (Maoism, Hoxhaism, Juche, etc.). It is found with the theory of “socialism in one country” as opposed to “permanent revolution”, and the international character of the socialist revolution.
 
Furthermore, Trotskyism is a criticism of Marxism-Leninism, it is a fundamental characteristic of Trotskyism as such. Atheism is a criticism of religion, it is a fundamental characteristic of atheism as such. Many theists hate atheism, and many Marxist-Leninists hate Trotskyism for the same reasons: both criticize a larger ideology, of which they are but a negation. Both theists and Marxist-Leninists promote the intentional obfuscation of the ideology that presents itself as a criticism of their own ideology. I.e. “atheists are inherently immoral” or “Trotskyists don’t want people in third world countries to make revolution and they want them to just ‘wait’ for international revolution abroad and suffer under the yoke of imperialism in the mean time”. In reality, of course, nothing could be further from the truth. These are baseless ideological attacks that serve an obvious end: the hostility to criticism and the avoidance of it at all costs.
 
In the wake of rising religious extremism, fundamentalism in schools, the fact that 40% of Americans think the earth is less than 10,000 years old and don’t believe in evolution, etc, etc, I think it is safe to say that, even as a follower of Liberation Theology, that atheistic criticisms of our society today are warranted. In the wake of the “fall of communism” in 1989-1991, the inherent lack of democracy (the ‘democratic’ aspect of democratic centralism) in the Marxist-Leninist states, the lack of any real substantial negative liberty’s for the people of those country’s, the failure of the universal applicability of the theory of “socialism in one country” (see DPRK’s economy today, or any other Marxist-Leninist autarky in the 20th century), and the overwhelmingly disastrous fall of the Marxist-Leninist world, I think it is safe to say that criticism is warranted.
 
Trotskyism represents itself as a socially revolutionary criticism of capitalism and imperialism, as well as a politically revolutionary criticism of Stalinism. It is not an attribute of imperialism because it sees imperialism, not Stalinism, as it’s number one enemy. When the USSR fell, Trotskyists united to rally behind and defend the Cuban Revolution, to attack Yeltsin’s counter-revolution in Russia. When the USSR fell, the overwhelming number of genuine Trotskyists were on the side of the working people, against imperialism and the introduction of capitalism in Soviet society (note I say genuine Trotskyists, not organizations like the ISO). It’s hostility towards imperialism and capitalism are inherent, it’s criticism of Stalinism, therefore, is as should be self-evident, a Marxist one.
Trotskyism Today and What Needs To Be Done
 
In the period between the fall of the USSR and the coming socialist revolution that will inevitably spring from the coming automation revolution, there is the manifestation of a ‘post-ideological’ ideology, an intangible ideology which claims to reject ideology itself. Revolts are happening around the world without any real ideological basis. Post-modernist ideology has made any all encompassing ideology seem superfluous and meaningless, Marxism included. In this desperate atmosphere, the last thing we need is the entire political left consisting of anti-revisionist Marxist-Leninists who have learned virtually nothing from the 20th century, except for the fact that “revising and reforming Stalinism caused the collapse of socialism”, that, and, social-democrats who think that capitalism can merely be reformed or given a “human face”, that we need a “balance of both sides”.
 
The only way out of this ideological crisis is through a clear, concise, Marxist criticism of the failures of Stalinism, and a radical movement that challenges the framework of global capitalism from a Marxist, yet anti-Stalinist position. We need a revolution, to put it simply. We need a revolution that takes Leninism from ‘The State and Revolution’, not the Leninism that emerged from the conditions of 1920’s Russia. We need a revolution that seeks not merely to rapidly industrialize this or that underdeveloped country, but a revolution in an already advanced capitalist country, one inside the beating heart of world imperialism itself.
 
Such a revolution, where the prerequisites of democracy and socialism are already in place, makes the bureaucratization of the state, the one-party system, indefinite restriction of negative freedoms in the post-revolutionary period, and the necessity of “strengthening the people’s state power” constantly, etc, superfluous. A revolution in the U.S., for instance, would cause Mexico and Canada to join the new United States of North and South America like “iron filings attracted to a magnet”, as Trotsky put it. International revolution would become a reality, the Marxist theory mentioned in ‘The State and Revolution’ would become a reality, and the state would begin to wither away as it never even began to in the Soviet Union.
 
To break the chains of this post-ideological age, fierce Marxist criticism of the past is essential. From this criticism, comes revolution, from this revolution, comes a third red scare, the smashing of post-modernism, and inevitably, world socialist revolution. All of this begins with the negation of Marxism-Leninism (Stalinism) from Leninism, i.e. Trotskyism, just as the criticism of religion begins with its negation, i.e. atheism.

Religion and Socialism: A New Answer To The Religious Question

Religion and Socialism: A New Answer To The Religious Question

Prelude to my Magnus Opus on Religion and Socialism

peter-hershey-112797

 

Some Historical Context (those familiar with the Trotskyist interpretation of the history of the Russian Revolution and the “fall of communism” can skip over this)

In 1917 a revolution in Russia erupted that shook the very foundation of the new world. Democracy up to that point had been the democracy of the property owning minority to the exclusion of the toiling masses. The concept of democracy according to the ancient Greeks, and consequently the democracy of America, was turned on its head into a democracy of the 99%, of the workers and peasants, to the exclusion of the property holding minority. It represented therefore an inversion of the dictatorship of the rich ruling class (the bourgeoisie) through bourgeois “democracy”, and its conversion into a dictatorship of the majority of society, of the workers and peasants through proletarian democracy.

Women were, for the first time in world history, given full political and economic equality. Racism was abolished and lost its institutional basis. Homosexuality was decriminalized and the Bolsheviks sought to abolish capitalist exploitation and introduce democracy into the workplace (socialism). Sadly though, many of these gains were undone when Stalin came to power. Immediately after the revolution, 16 imperialist countries invaded the young Soviet Republic, waging a bloody civil war with the fervent monarchist, anti-semitic, and reactionary white army. This invasion was supported by the former ruling class, the landowners and capitalists. It was supported by the Russian Orthodox Church, an institution that had taught the Russian people to revere the Tsar as a saint, to blindly follow him into battle against other working people in whatever imperialist war he wished to wage at their expense.

Most socialists and Marxists were shocked at this, according to Marxism the first socialist revolutions ought to happen in the most advanced capitalist countries first, at the end of capitalist development. Instead the opposite happened, in a backward country where 65% to 80% of the population could not read! The imperialist expansion of the most advanced capitalist economies in the world was largely the cause of the Russian Revolutions surprising emergence in world history.

The Civil War period forced upon the Bolsheviks a necessary policy of Red Terror against the White Terror, a reinvented form of Jacobinism to defend the gains of the revolution. The attacks on the Bolsheviks from other parties, even socialist ones, in these conditions, led to the eventual formation of a one-party socialist state, a system never mentioned in the writings of Marx, Engels nor Lenin. Though tragic, it emerged as a historical necessity to defend the Russian Revolution from its enemies.

The success of the revolution depended entirely upon revolution on the international scale, a fact often stressed by Lenin, Trotsky, and even Stalin at the time. Many fought and died for this cause, but unfortunately the Bolshevik’s salvation never came. The imperialist war that led to the revolution was a result of the fact that the contradictions of the economic system of capitalism, of its markets, could no longer be reconciled within a nation state. It was long thought that socialism, a system more advanced than capitalism, could also only be achieved as an economic system on an international scale, the advent of imperialism furthered this reasoning. When Lenin died and international revolution never happened there was a split in the communist movement, a split between Trotsky and Stalin. Stalin and Bukharin advocated a theory of Socialism in one country, while Trotsky advocated a theory of Permanent Revolution.

Trotsky was exiled by Stalin in 1927 and was eventually murdered by one of Stalin’s agents in 1940. Trotsky believed that the Russian Revolution had been lost under the Stalinist bureaucracy, that it had become undemocratic, despotic, and that it had betrayed the revolution. Stalin on the other hand believed that he had only done what was necessary to keep Russia together under the socialist cause. After WW2 a whole series of liberated countries from fascist Germany and Italy set up systems mirrored not on the 1917 revolution, but on Stalin’s Russia. Stalinism was their political foundation. All of these countries, starting in 1917, were led by parties that waged a relentless struggle against religious belief. Such is the basis of my criticism. In 1989-1991 the USSR, followed by the entire Eastern Bloc, fell to capitalism. Religious persecution was one of the major reasons for the “fall of communism”. That is the historical context for this work.

The Critique of Lenin, Trotsky, Stalin, et al.

Historical materialism shows that religion, and organized religion in particular, has, in every epoch, acted in defense of the prevailing socioeconomic order, and every socioeconomic order since the emergence of agriculture has been fundamentally based on exploitation. Therefore Lenin states,

“Marxism has always regarded all modern religions and churches, and each and every religious [organization], as instruments of bourgeois reaction that serve to defend exploitation and to befuddle the working class.” (Lenin, Collected Works, Volume 15, p. 403).

While this certainly seems to be true in Lenin’s time, let us analyze this quotation for a moment in the modern world. Is this true? In Latin America there developed in the spirit of the socialist revolutions that overtook the world in the 20th century, liberation theology, a form of Christianity that saw the material emancipation of the oppressed and exploited peoples of the world as a necessary prerequisite to Christianity. In Soviet Russia, after the revolution, there developed a “living church” that supported the ideals of socialism and communism in spite of the Bolsheviks ideological war on religion as such, it was a church that attempted to distance itself from the reactionary Russian Orthodox Church. There is the National Liberation Army of Columbia that ascribes to an interpretation of Marxism-Leninism through the lens of Liberation Theology. There is the People’s Mujahedin of Iran, a militant political movement that ascribes to an Islamic variant of Marxism. There are countless progressive churches in the United States and abroad with a staunch anti-capitalist, pro-socialist programme. Can we therefore say that Lenin was correct in saying that “all modern religions and churches”, and “each and every religious organization” are “instruments of bourgeois reaction that serve to defend exploitation and befuddle the working class”? Not in the least. In this regard, history has proved Lenin wrong.

These are religious organizations and movements that share in the optimism of progress we all on the left of the political spectrum feel. This puts to bed Trotsky’s declaration in The Revolution Betrayed that

“Marxism is saturated with the optimism of progress, and that alone, by the way, makes it irreconcilably opposed to religion.” (p. 27)

Stalin was once asked the following question,

We know that some good Communists do not altogether agree with the Communist Partys demand that all new members must be atheists, because the reactionary clergy are now suppressed. Could the Communist Party in the future take a neutral attitude towards a religion [that] supported all the teachings of science and did not oppose communism? Could you in the future permit Party members to hold religious convictions if the latter did not conflict with Party loyalty?”

He answered dogmatically,

“I do not know of any ‘good Communists’ such as the delegation mentions here. It is doubtful whether any such Communists exist at all.” (Stalin, Works, p.137).

Trotsky once remarked,

“…Perhaps you intended to imply that religion is of no political importance? That it is possible to be religious and at the same time a consistent communist and revolutionary fighter? You will hardly venture so rash an assertion.” (Trotsky, In Defense of Marxism, p. 52: http://www.marxists.org/archive/trotsky/works/1942-dm/ch03.htm).

All of these assertions have been completely debased and put to bed by the development of liberation theology and other genuinely proletarian religious movements for the liberation of the proletariat.

Of course, one doesn’t blame Copernicus for believing the sun to be the center of the universe, just as one shouldn’t blame Lenin for believing that “each and every religious organization” is an instrument of reaction and bourgeois obfuscation of the proletariat. These men were limited by the historical knowledge and material conditions of human progress in their time. This does not in the least mean that Copernicus or Lenin were not wrong in their final conclusions, merely that the result of their conclusion was underdeveloped by the limits of human knowledge and world history.

In this spirit of ideological hostility to religious belief Lenin declared,

“The party of the proletariat demands that the state should declare religion a private matter, but does not regard the fight against the opium of the people, the fight against religious superstitions, etc., as a ‘private matter’. The opportunists distort the question to mean that the Social-Democratic Party regards religion as a private matter!”(ibid. 410)

Of course, this proclamation directly contradicts the proclamation of German communist revolutionary Rosa Luxemburg when she said,

“Social-Democracy in no way fights against religious beliefs. On the contrary, it demands complete freedom of conscience for every individual and the widest possible toleration for every faith and every opinion. But, from the moment when the priests use the pulpit as a means of political struggle against the working classes, the workers must fight against the enemies of their rights and their liberation. For he who defends the exploiters and who helps to prolong this present regime of misery, he is the mortal enemy of the proletariat, whether he be in a cassock or in the uniform of the police.”(https://www.marxists.org/archive/luxemburg/1905/misc/socialism-churches.htm)

Not even Marx declared that atheism should be an essential policy of a workers party. When the International Alliance of Socialist Democracy proposed as rule number 1 of its program,

“The Alliance declares itself atheist; it wants abolition of cults, substitution of science for faith, and human justice for divine justice.”

Marx replied in a side note,

“As if one could declare—by decree—the abolition of faith!” (Marx Engels Collected Works, Volume 21 p. 208).

In the Draft of a Communist Confession of Faith, Engels says,

“All religions so far have been the expression of historical stages of development of individual peoples or groups of peoples. But communism is the stage of historical development which makes all existing religions superfluous* and brings about their disappearance.” .( https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1847/06/09.htm).

This is in conformity with the Marxist interpretation of religion as the opium of the people, as religion (the tool for the oppressed worker) is no longer needed when the oppression of the worker ceases to be. The word Engels uses here is superfluous, not abolished by force, not something that comes about by “convincing the masses ideologically”, not something that is established as a prerequisite to communism, but as something that comes about with communism. All this rests though, on the Marxist theory that religion is solely an expression of socioeconomic conditions, is solely “the opium of the people”. Marx also once remarked,

“Communism begins from the outset (Owen) with atheism; but atheism is at first far from being communism; indeed, that atheism is still mostly an abstraction.” (https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1844/manuscripts/comm.htm)

But even with this Marx is describing communism in the abstract, not in the concrete as a socioeconomic system.

Marx’s interpretation of communism is, no doubt, atheistic. However would it not befuddle the worker to proclaim Marx a prophet? As someone who’s vision of communism was to be carried out exactly as Marx envisioned? Would it not be rash to consider the ideology of the proletariat in the 21st century to be exactly Marx’s ideology with no historical context? Is it revisionist to make such a claim? Perhaps. But it is thoroughly based on the historical context of the 20th century and the material conditions of the 21st.

Marx’s famous quote about religion has been grotesquely misinterpreted by Stalinists and idealistically by “new atheists” alike. To quote it in full,

“It is the fantastic realization of the human essence since the human essence has not acquired any true reality. The struggle against religion is, therefore, indirectly the struggle against that world whose spiritual aroma is religion.

Religious suffering is, at one and the same time, the expression of real suffering and a protest against real suffering. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people.

The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is the demand for their real happiness. To call on them to give up their illusions about their condition is to call on them to give up a condition that requires illusions. The criticism of religion is, therefore, in embryo, the criticism of that vale of tears of which religion is the halo.” (https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1843/critique-hpr/intro.htm)

Truly this is a beautiful quote by Marx, but let us first analyze what Marx is saying. Religion as it is portrayed in this way is a false light in a world of darkness. Marx is calling on its abolition “as the illusory happiness of the people”. He is calling on the abolition of the “conditions that require illusions”. He is not merely attacking religious ideas as illusions as such, but he is calling for their abolition as they manifest themselves as an illusory happiness.

Can anyone who is sincerely religious say they want their religious convictions to be merely a tool for people to achieve illusory happiness in grotesque conditions? Can anyone sincerely religious say they want religion to merely be an opiate for people who live in oppressive conditions? Religious ethics compel one to be compassionate, and therefore compel the abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people. There is no contradiction here. It was once alleged correctly that Mother Teresa was “a friend of poverty, not of the poor”. Is this what a “true Christian” is? Someone who takes pleasure in the religious suffering of others in order to spread their faith to the widest possible masses? Not in the least! This is an ethical betrayal of Christianity!

 

The Contradiction Between The Party and The State

Let us assume, for a moment, that religion should be combatted directly by the party of the proletariat. Well and good ladies, gentlemen, and non-binary folk, but what happens when the party comes to power? Marx, Engels, and Lenin never once mentioned or wrote about a one-party state. It emerged in a later phase of the Russian Revolution and there is no indication that such a system was to remain permanent. If, under such a system, the party controls the state, controls the schools, and all other state, public, and social organs, how can the state be neutral on the grounds of religion and the party not be? Here there is a glaring contradiction that was never once addressed under the Stalinist system. Instead it led to the total abandonment even of Leninism, and even of this contradictory Stalinist interpretation of Leninism.

While there was no “official” state persecution, there were, still, constant anti-religious campaigns carried out by the party, de facto carried out by the state during the entire existence of the USSR and the other Marxist-Leninist states. In Stalinist Albania, this contradiction eventually led to the abolition of freedom of religion entirely! All religion was made illegal in 1967, over 2000 (the total number of) churches and mosques were closed down by the state in a matter of months. It was an action carried out in total violation of even Marxist-Leninist principles as a result of this contradiction. Even the British-Albanian Friendship Association (an anti-revisionist Marxist-Leninist organization if there ever was one) distributed a lengthy document labeled “Discussion Document Only – Not for Publication” within its ranks (because it did not want to damage the image of Stalinist Albania) that wholly condemned Hoxha’s anti-religious campaign. It did not in the least point out or even acknowledge this contradiction, but instead blamed it on “hidden revisionists who – by taking advantage of the ‘cult of personality’ built up around Hoxha – sought to [utilize] this sectarian action to discredit the country’s Marxist-Leninist leadership around Hoxha as part of a broader aim of reversing the construction of socialism in Albania” in the typical Hoxhaist bunker mentality of Stalinist anti-revisionism.

The conclusion of the entire lengthy British-Albanian Friendship Association’s analysis is as follows:

In the context of the anti-religious struggle carried out in socialist Albania, the closure of its religious institutions in 1966-67 had been:

1) in violation of Marxist-Leninist principles;

2) in violation of the Constitution of the PR of Albania;

3) not in compliance with Albania’s international obligations as a UN member;

4) an action embodying certain features of the ‘cultural revolution’ which was simultaneously proceeding in China;

5) an action which must have alienated to some extent religious believers within Albania who might otherwise have been full supporters of the socialist regime;

6) an action which assisted international anti-socialist propaganda;

7) an action which alienated to some extent religious believers who might otherwise have been [favorably] disposed towards socialist Albania;

8) an action which held back to some extent the international Marxist-Leninist movement, of which socialist Albania had been the sole citadel during the sixties, seventies, and eighties, by presenting the image of a state which arbitrarily permits the violation of its constitutional rights, and by alienating to some extent religious believers who might otherwise have been firm supporters of the movement;

9) not initiated by the leading group in the party and state around the PLA First Secretary, Hoxha;

10) initiated by an [organized] and influential group of hidden revisionists who – by taking advantage of the ‘cult of personality’ built up around Hoxha – sought to [utilize] this sectarian action to discredit the country’s Marxist-Leninist leadership around Hoxha as part of a broader aim of reversing the construction of socialism in Albania.”

Even the British-Albanian Friendship Association admitted religious people would have fully supported the government had it not carried out these policies. Dare we not go a step further and say that the Leninist attitude towards religion in general alienated the people who resided in Leninist Russia, the later USSR, and other Marxist-Leninists states to such an extent that it was a major contributing factor in the “fall of communism” in the USSR and Eastern Europe? We have already established that Lenin’s view of religion as being something that, “in every instance”, opposes the liberation of the proletariat to be a wrong interpretation in light of modern conditions. This was his entire basis for his opposition to religion as such, next to, of course, his Marxist interpretation of materialist philosophy.

 

Materialism

How did Lenin regard materialism? Lenin said, “Marxism is materialism. As such, it is as relentlessly hostile to religion as was the materialism of the eighteenth- century Encyclopaedists or the materialism of Feuerbach.” (Lenin, Collected Works Volume 15, p. 405). Lunacharsky, yes the same Bolshevik who in 1918 held a mock trial and execution of God himself, in his earlier years was a leading proponent of the “God Builder” faction of the Bolshevik Party. Though he wanted to create a “new secular religion” to replace the old, he held that the workers party should be agnostic, that true materialism is agnostic and not atheistic as the existence or non-existence of God was not an obviously apparent. He said:

“From the socialist point of view, the attitude of the proletarian movement toward religious organizations is built on the basis of their positions in the class struggle. Socialism looks at religious movements from the point of view of the common good, as well as physical, moral and mental development, which implies the following:

1. Socialism is fighting against religious superstitions and prejudices based on empirical knowledge of objective and subjective science.

2. Socialism is fighting against the religious intellectuals serving the bourgeoisie, just as with the secular intellectuals supporting the bourgeoisie.

3. Socialism is alien to militant atheism, based on opposing prejudice and violence against people.

4. Socialist freedom also implies freedom of religion and an independent search for the truth for every person.

5. Socialism cannot dogmatically hold any one position on the statements ‘God is’ or ‘There is no God’, and takes a position of agnosticism or ‘open possibilities’.

6. Socialism unites secular and religious ideological groups in the struggle for the proletariat. Any action aiming to merge socialism with religious fanaticism, or militant atheism, are actions aimed at splitting the proletarian class and have the formula of “divide and rule”, which plays into the hands of bourgeois dictatorship.” (Anatoly Lunacharsky. Religion and Socialism, Moscow (1908))

There is an obvious contradiction in views here as well between the views of Lunacharsky and Lenin. Though Lunacharsky eventually came around to the Leninist view of religion in the years of the revolution, we cannot dismiss his earlier writings. What is the interpretation of materialism according to James Connolly? Connolly said,

“Modern Socialism, in fact, as it exists in the minds of its leading exponents, and as it is held and worked for by an increasing number of enthusiastic adherents throughout the [civilized] world, has an essentially material, matter-of-fact foundation. We do not mean that its supporters are necessarily materialists in the vulgar, and merely anti-theological, sense of the term, but that they do not base their Socialism upon any interpretation of the language or meaning of Scripture, nor upon the real or supposed intentions of a beneficent Deity. They as a party neither affirm or deny those things, but leave it to the individual conscience of each member to determine what beliefs on such questions they shall hold.”

It should suffice, then, that socialists have a materialist interpretation of history, view the world through the lens of materialist dialectics in which “God” is not a variable for change, but on the question of personal belief and conscience in regards to religious belief, it should never compel a fighting socialist to abandon their religious convictions or, as a party, to spread “anti-religious propaganda”.

 

A New Historical Materialist Approach To The Question

Religion has, in all previous epochs, defended the prevailing socioeconomic system. If we take into account only Asiatic, slave, feudal, and capitalist society we can say that religion has always stood for exploitation and oppression because of its defensive attitude towards the prevailing socioeconomic system. But if we consider for a moment that the ethics of every single religion today are irrevocably hostile to capitalist “ethics”, and are in total sync with the ethics of socialism, why should we assume that organized religious institutions and religion in general would not support a socialist world order? We have no reason to believe that it would as an eventuality. Initially, as always, many if not most religious institutions are undoubtedly reactionary in nature and would initially be hostile to social change. This necessitates an ideological battle against these institutions not on the basis of their being religious as such, but on the basis of them being bourgeois. The exposure of the hostility of these institutions towards a system no doubt resembling that of the early apostles, no doubt in line with the ethics of most every religious doctrine, would cause a massive reformation of religion as it exists today. It would, no doubt, cause new and reformed religious institutions to mercilessly defend socialism. To quote St. Paisios of Mt. Athos,

“Personally, if the communists weren’t atheist, if they didn’t hunt Christ, I would agree with them. It’s good for the plots of land, the factories, to belong to everyone; not for one to be hungry while someone else is throwing away food.”

In this regard, Lenin’s declared official hostility of the Bolsheviks to religion as such, and not to its bourgeois character in the (then) present epoch, actually worked against the cause of socialism. For the religious institutions of Russia, or any other country for that matter, would never, and never did support a militantly atheistic socialist system. This actually led to the fall of Marxism-Leninism in the 20th century. Pope John Paul II’s speech in Poland is widely regarded as the speech that inspired the workers of Poland to finally destroy the Stalinist system, and with that, the first domino in the Eastern Bloc fell. It played directly into the hands of world imperialism and reaction. It was the reason the U.S. reactionaries added “In God We Trust” to currency!

Making the struggle against religion a “natural and indispensable part of scientific socialism” was one of the biggest contributing factors in the fall of Marxism-Leninism in Russian and Eastern Europe. Its dogmatic approach to the religious question alienated the majority of the population and made both believers and the church institutions themselves wage a now hidden, now open ideological fight against the communists, a fight that could have ended either in the utopian abolition of religion under socialism at large, or in the destruction of the Marxist-Leninist system as a whole. History, as we know now, unfolded upon the latter.

What should have been something in conformity with the ethics of all the major religions was turned into something militantly hostile to religious belief. The socioeconomic base of the Marxist-Leninist system lacked the justification and support it had from religious institutions under the asiatic, slave, feudal, and capitalist modes of production and their natural socio-political counterparts. The religious institutions were reactionary because they were capitalist under capitalism. They only remained capitalist because the new socioeconomic order would never allow them to exist freely in society without hinderance, constant ideological war, and persecution.

 

Conclusion

What, then, should the policy of the workers party be towards religion? It should, as Rosa Luxemburg said,

“in no way [fight] against religious beliefs”,

on the contrary, it must

“[demand] complete freedom of conscience for every individual and the widest possible toleration for every faith and every opinion. But, from the moment when the priests use the pulpit as a means of political struggle against the working classes, the workers must fight against the enemies of their rights and their liberation. For he who defends the exploiters and who helps to prolong this present regime of misery, he is the mortal enemy of the proletariat, whether he be in a cassock or in the uniform of the police.”

James Connolly lays out the attitude any socialist party can, should and must take in his work Socialism and Religion (1899) saying,

“The Socialist Party of Ireland prohibits the discussion, of theological or anti-theological questions at its meetings, public or private. This is in conformity with the practice of the chief Socialist parties of the world, which have frequently, in Germany for example, declared Religion to be a private matter, and outside the scope of Socialist action. * Modern Socialism, in fact, as it exists in the minds of its leading exponents, and as it is held and worked for by an increasing number of enthusiastic adherents throughout the [civilized] world, has an essentially material, matter-of-fact foundation. We do not mean that its supporters are necessarily materialists in the vulgar, and merely anti-theological, sense of the term, but that they do not base their Socialism upon any interpretation of the language or meaning of Scripture, nor upon the real or supposed intentions of a beneficent Deity. They as a party neither affirm or deny those things, but leave it to the individual conscience of each member to determine what beliefs on such questions they shall hold. As a political party they wisely prefer to take their stand upon the actual phenomena of social life as they can be observed in operation amongst us [today], or as they can be traced in the recorded facts of history. If any special interpretation of the meanings of Scripture tends to influence human thought in the direction of Socialism, or is found to be on a plane with the postulates of Socialist doctrine, then the scientific Socialist considers that the said interpretation is stronger because of its identity with the teachings of Socialism, but he does not necessarily believe that Socialism is stronger, or its position more impregnable, because of its theological ally. He [realizes] that the facts upon which his Socialist faith are based are strong enough in themselves to withstand every shock, and attacks from every quarter, and therefore while he is at all times willing to accept help from every extraneous source, he will only accept it on one condition, viz., that he is not to be required in return to identify his cause with any other whose discomfiture might also involve Socialism in discredit. This is the main reason why Socialists fight shy of theological dogmas and religions generally: because we feel that Socialism is based upon a series of facts requiring only unassisted human reason to grasp and master all their details, whereas Religion of every kind is admittedly based upon ‘faith’ in the occurrence in past ages of a series of phenomena inexplicable by any process of mere human reasoning. Obviously, therefore, to identify Socialism with Religion would be to abandon at once that universal, non-sectarian character which to-day we find indispensable to working-class unity, as it would mean that our members would be required to conform to one religious creed, as well as to one specific economic faith – a course of action we have no intention of entering upon as it would inevitably entangle us in the disputes of the warring sects of the world, and thus lead to the disintegration of the Socialist Party.

Socialism, as a party, bases itself upon its knowledge of facts, of economic truths, and leaves the building up of religious ideals or faiths to the outside public, or to its individual members if they so will. It is neither Freethinker nor Christian, Turk nor Jew, Buddhist nor [Idolater], [Muslim] nor Parsee – it is only human.”

(https://www.marxists.org/archive/connolly/1901/evangel/socrel.htm)

It is this attitude that socialism of the 21st century must take towards religious belief. It must not condone religious intolerance and religious bigotry, or anti-religious intolerance and anti-religious bigotry. As essential as the teachings of Lenin and Trotsky are to the socialist movement, we must take their views into historical context, and, when they are wrong such as in the instance of the religious question, fundamentally revise them. Socialism is, after all, only human.

*My Italics or bold- TFB

Against Christian Fundamentalism

Lakewood_worship.jpg
45% of Americans believe the universe is less than 10,000 years old. How did we get here? I had thought most everyone accepted the big bang theory and the theory of evolution as a scientific fact. This statistic terrifies me. If you make it a war of science vs. religion, science will always win. Evolution and the big bang are theories backed by mountains and mountains of scientific evidence. Creationism is a great creation myth, but it’s literalism is just that, a myth. I’m sorry but outside this ancient text, these ancient scribblings, written by men, perhaps inspired by God as I and many Christians believe they are, there is no actual scientific evidence for the universe being 6000 years old. In fact, the scientific method illuminates empirical truth through reason and skepticism, it reveals that there is not one shred of evidence for such a claim.
 
The modern conception of God to many Christians is, in my view, horribly wrong. God is not supposed to be, as Neil DeGrasse Tyson put it, “an ever receding pocket of scientific ignorance”. God is not some being that acts directly through some hitherto undiscovered scientific mechanism of action. 45% of Americans are ignorant of, or blatantly in denial of, basic scientific fact. When they discover the truth, many of them will abandon religion altogether as I once did. This will no doubt spark a nietzschean moral and existential crisis, the likes of which have never been seen in Western society. The Creation Museum is a museum of human ignorance. For every one person it “saves”, ten more are irrevocably turned away from the Christian faith, for Christianity becomes, in their mind, merely a testament to the ignorance and stupidity of the dark ages.
 
The denial of reason and the embrace of superstition is not a testament of faith, but on the contrary, it is evidence of a faith so weak that it has to deny and attempt to bury any and all rational arguments against it. The true testament of faith is found in one who accepts new evidence against old interpretations of scriptures, one who subjugates their religious convictions to the light of reason and scientific evidence, who asks questions and does not dogmatically follow the flock.
 
If you claim that the only way there is a God is if evolution is a “satanic conspiracy” and the big bang is a “hoax”, then I would claim that there is no God. But this rigid, literalist interpretation of Christianity is not the only one in the least. Many Christian sects are coming around and saying that there is no contradiction between science and religious belief, that the evidence of the big bang and evolution is evidence that our literalist interpretation of scripture is wrong.
 
But I go one step further. I claim that while I believe in God, I also believe a time will come when virtually every single phenomenon will be explained by science and the laws of physics. The backward view of God as this ever receding pocket of scientific ignorance will be abolished and thrust into the dustbin of human ignorance. God, as we believers understand him, will take on a radically different form. I do not claim this form will be inherently atheistic, but that it will do away with the ignorance and rigidity of the religions of the past. This, of course, will affect all existing religions, not just Christianity.
 
Christian institutions, and indeed all religious institutions, in every epoch, justifies and ideologically reinforces the prevailing socioeconomic order (hitherto in slave, feudal and capitalist societies, forms of oppression and exploitation). Modern bourgeois Christianity takes Americanism and turns American Fundamentalist Christianity into a civil religion that directly justifies U.S. imperialism, military expansion, the police force, economic exploitation, oppression of minorities, violence, and decadence of our capitalist order. Even more so, it declares America to be “God’s chosen nation today”. But nothing could be further from the truth, nothing could be more in opposition to Christian moral values than capitalism and imperialism. A billionaire is to a Christian as Ted Bundy is to Saint Basil. There can be no comparison.
Even worse is the social hostility of modern Christians towards women’s and LGBT+ rights. Such abominable and backward views are ethically anti-Christian, yet those adhering to the alleged infallibility of the Bible ceaselessly defend such backwardness in the name of religious freedom. Christianity is thereby turned from a religion which proclaims God is love into one that proclaims God is hate.
 
In a word, what modern Christianity needs to do is to break away from its scientific ignorance and its ceaseless defense of capitalism and imperialism. The tool to do this, I believe, lies in Liberation Theology. But what is also needed is a historical materialist critique of Christianity through the ages (slave, feudal, bourgeois) and how our religion is alienated from itself in each epoch and used to justify oppression and exploitation, how our religion must adapt institutionally to condemn capitalist exploitation and defend socialist democracy if it is to truly take on a Christian character.

Controversial View: Religion Should Be A Private Matter Not only In Relation To The State, But To The Party Of The Advanced Proletariat

Ax7gCfT.jpg

“I am a seminarian and I will join the New People’s Army! Christians For National Liberation!”

I will start by saying that while I consider myself to be a (rather unorthodox) Leninist and a Trotskyist, I fundamentally disagree with Lenin’s and Trotsky’s position on how religion relates to the party of the advanced proletariat.

The Traditional Leninist Position

It should be said that, contrary to myth, Lenin never outlawed religion as such, and made it explicitly clear in his writings that freedom of conscience should reign in socialist society. In The Attitude of The Workers’ Party to Religion, Lenin stated that while

“Marxism has always regarded all modern religions and churches, and each and every religious organization, as instruments of bourgeois reaction that serve to defend exploitation and to befuddle the working class” (Lenin Collected Works Volume 15, p. 403)

that,

“Engels frequently condemned the efforts of people who desired to be ‘more left’ or ‘more revolutionary’ than the Social-Democrats to introduce into the programme of the workers’ party an explicit proclamation of atheism, in the sense of declaring war on religion”(Ibid).

This, by the way, shows the anti-Leninist attitude of Albania under Enver Hoxha, who declared all religious worship and practice to be illegal in 1967 and barred religious cadres from joining the party. This pseudo-revolutionary policy of barring religious cadres is also taken up by the Communist Party of China today.

Furthermore, Lenin goes on saying that

“…in 1877, too, in his Anti- Dühring, while ruthlessly attacking the slightest concessions made by Dühring the philosopher to idealism and religion, Engels no less resolutely condemns Dühring’s pseudo-revolutionary idea that religion should be prohibited in socialist society. To declare such a war on-religion, Engels says, is to ‘out-Bismarck Bismarck’, i.e., to repeat the folly of Bismarck’s struggle against the clericals…” (Ibid).

But make no mistake as to Lenin’s position on the matter. Lenin also said

Social-Democrats regard religion as a private matter in relation to the state, but not in relation to themselves, not in relation to Marxism, and not in relation to the workers’ party” (Idib, 404).

Despite this, Lenin actually advocated the allowances of religious members and even priests into the communist party if they so wished, saying,

“If a priest comes to us to take part in our common political work and conscientiously performs Party duties, without opposing the programme of the Party, he may be allowed to join the ranks of the Social-Democrats; for the contradiction between the spirit and principles of our programme and the religious convictions of the priest would in such circumstances be something that concerned him alone, his own private contradiction; and a political organisation cannot put its members through an examination to see if there is no contradiction between their views and the Party programme.” (Ibid, 408).

“Discrimination among citizens on account of their religious convictions is wholly intolerable. Even the bare mention of a citizen’s religion in official documents should unquestionably be eliminated.” (Lenin Collected Works, Volume 10, p. 84)

But Lenin constantly emphasized the atheism of materialism and Marxism in saying,

“Marxism is materialism. As such, it is as relentlessly hostile to religion as was the materialism of the eighteenth- century Encyclopaedists or the materialism of Feuerbach. This is beyond doubt. But the dialectical materialism of Marx and Engels goes further than the Encyclopaedists and Feuerbach, for it applies the materialist philosophy to the do- main of history, to the domain of the social sciences. We must combat religion—that is the ABC of all materialism, and consequently of Marxism.” (Lenin Collected Works Volume 15, p. 405)

In short, Lenin believed that religion should be a private affair in regard to the state, but not in regard to the party of the advanced proletariat. Lenin taught that the party of the advanced proletariat should fight against religious beliefs as such, even though it never believed in barring religious members from joining, as the contradiction of doing so was a purely personal one. Lenin believed that religion itself was to be combatted, and not merely the bourgeois nature of modern religion.

The Position of Rosa Luxemburg and James Connolly, and Consequently, My Position

Rosa Luxemburg and James Connolly, two of the famous revolutionary Marxists of the 20th century take an entirely different position on the matter of religion in regards to the party of the advanced proletariat. It is precisely their position that I advocate instead of Lenin’s and Trotsky’s.

James Connolly explicitly addresses his view on the matter in a section of Workers’ Republic, June 17, 1899 titled The New Evangel, Socialism and Religion, The Known and the Unknowable. Connolly begins by addressing the fact that the relationship between socialism and atheism is often used as a last ditch attack by the bourgeoisie against the principles of socialism. We saw this in the 20th century with the addition of “In God We Trust” to American currency during the height of the Cold War to combat “Godless” Communism. But in the case of the Cold War, this bourgeois attack had a material basis in the shameful religious persecutions that took place in the so-called Marxist-Leninist states of the 20th Century. Connolly states that this intentional bourgeois obfuscation on the question of religion and socialism often works negatively to deter a religious worker away from socialist politics. A firmly established position of atheism no doubt turns the religious worker away from any socialist party 9/10 of the time, and is undoubtedly negative. In fact, religious persecution was one of the main factors contributing to the fall of the USSR and Eastern Bloc. Connolly further clarifies the pre-Leninist position of the socialists saying that,

“The Socialist Party of Ireland prohibits the discussion, of theological or anti-theological questions at its meetings, public or private. This is in conformity with the practice of the chief Socialist parties of the world, which have frequently, in Germany for example, declared Religion to be a private matter, and outside the scope of Socialist action.* Modern Socialism, in fact, as it exists in the minds of its leading exponents, and as it is held and worked for by an increasing number of enthusiastic adherents throughout the civilized world, has an essentially material, matter-of-fact foundation. We do not mean that its supporters are necessarily materialists in the vulgar, and merely anti-theological, sense of the term, but that they do not base their Socialism upon any interpretation of the language or meaning of Scripture, nor upon the real or supposed intentions of a beneficent Deity.* They as a party neither affirm or deny those things, but leave it to the individual conscience of each member to determine what beliefs on such questions they shall hold. As a political party they wisely prefer to take their stand upon the actual phenomena of social life as they can be observed in operation amongst us to-day, or as they can be traced in the recorded facts of history. If any special interpretation of the meanings of Scripture tends to influence human thought in the direction of Socialism, or is found to be on a plane with the postulates of Socialist doctrine, then the scientific Socialist considers that the said interpretation is stronger because of its identity with the teachings of Socialism, but he does not necessarily believe that Socialism is stronger, or its position more impregnable, because of its theological ally. He realises that the facts upon which his Socialist faith are based are strong enough in themselves to withstand every shock, and attacks from every quarter, and therefore while he is at all times willing to accept help from every extraneous source, he will only accept it on one condition, viz., that he is not to be required in return to identify his cause with any other whose discomfiture might also involve Socialism in discredit. This is the main reason why Socialists fight shy of theological dogmas and religions generally: because we feel that Socialism is based upon a series of facts requiring only unassisted human reason to grasp and master all their details, whereas Religion of every kind is admittedly based upon ‘faith’ in the occurrence in past ages of a series of phenomena inexplicable by any process of mere human reasoning. Obviously, therefore, to identify Socialism with Religion would be to abandon at once that universal, non-sectarian character which to-day we find indispensable to working-class unity, as it would mean that our members would be required to conform to one religious creed, as well as to one specific economic faith – a course of action we have no intention of entering upon as it would inevitably entangle us in the disputes of the warring sects of the world, and thus lead to the disintegration of the Socialist Party.

Socialism, as a party, bases itself upon its knowledge of facts, of economic truths, and leaves the building up of religious ideals or faiths to the outside public, or to its individual members if they so will. It is neither Freethinker nor Christian, Turk nor Jew, Buddhist nor Idolator, Mohammedan nor Parsee – it is only human” (Socialism and Religion, 1899, James Connolly).

*My Bold – TFB

Rosa Luxemburg, a figure so famous among the left that there can no doubt as to her loyalty to Marxism, goes a step further saying that not only should religion be considered a private matter in relation to the party of the advanced proletariat, but to social-democracy as such, saying,

“And here is the answer to all the attacks of the clergy: the Social-Democracy in no way fights against religious beliefs. On the contrary, it demands complete freedom of conscience for every individual and the widest possible toleration for every faith and every opinion.* But, from the moment when the priests use the pulpit as a means of political struggle against the working classes, the workers must fight against the enemies of their rights and their liberation. For he who defends the exploiters and who helps to prolong this present regime of misery, he is the mortal enemy of the proletariat, whether he be in a cassock or in the uniform of the police.” (Socialism and The Churches, 1905, Rosa Luxemburg).

*My bold – TFB

It is in this tradition, that of the pre-Leninist Marxists that I fall. It is well known to my readers that I am a follower of Liberation Theology, and, consequently, a religious communist. It must be said, however, that while we have to combat bourgeois religion due to its loyalty to the bourgeoisie, this fight should be taken up because it is bourgeois and not because it is religion as such. This fight should be taken up by religious communists as well, for every minute a religious institution supports capitalism, it betrays its own emancipatory foundations. We should support any religious movement that tries to emancipate itself from the chains of bourgeois ideology and the defense of capitalist exploitation. Religion always defends the prevailing socioeconomic order, but, with the stubborn struggle against social change, it eventually comes around to support the new order once it is firmly established. Such will no doubt be the path taken by the church when socialism inevitably triumphs over the earth. But by making the struggle against religion an active policy of the party of the advanced proletariat, as was the case in the 20th century, it actually works to prevent this future support by religious institutions of socialism. On the contrary, religious institutions under a socialist state hostile to religious belief will never come around to support socialist society as they did support capitalist society, even though the ethics of socialism fall infinitely more in line with religious teachings than those of capitalism. Such institutions under such conditions will act to militantly defend the reign of the bourgeoisie, and be permanently opposed to socialism.

To quote St. Paisios of Mt. Athos,

“Personally, if the communists weren’t atheist, if they didn’t hunt Christ, I would agree with them. It’s good for the plots of land, the factories, to belong to everyone; not for one to be hungry while someone else is throwing away food.”
-Elder Paisios

That is the only contradiction between religion and socialism the socialist movement of the 21st century need worry about.

I consider myself to be a materialist but not an atheist, and no, there is no contradiction. An actual philosophical inquiry as to my interpretation of materialism and consciousness, however, will be saved for a future post as it would be too lengthy to go into in this post.

I strongly advocate that socialist and communist parties everywhere, not only in the spirit of Rosa Luxemburg and James Connolly, but in the spirit of learning from the horrendous tragedies of the 20th century Marxist-Leninist states, take on an attitude of neutrality towards religion as such.

Sources:

Lenin Collected Works Volume 10

Lenin Collected Works Volume 15

Socialism and Religion, James Connolly

Socialism and The Churches, 1905, Rosa Luxemburg

Elder Paisios Quote

Briefly, On the accusations of the (God forbid) “atheism” of Marx and Lenin by the right- From a Christian and a Communist

Yes, Marx and Lenin were atheists! Do you know what else? Buddha was a Buddhist. Martin Luther King was a Christian. Malcom X was a Muslim. Great men are great regardless of their religious convictions. Your attempts to slenderize Marx and Lenin for being atheists are wholly baseless. Were they wrong for being atheists? I believe so, but their criticism of religion was not unfounded.

What has “christian charity” done to lift broadly, the toiling masses out of extreme poverty? What has mindfulness done to improve the material conditions of the poor? They are not wrong in their criticism, if anything, they were atheists out of love for working people, out of their desire for the complete freedom of working people. And yes, I say that as both a Christian and a communist. That is your first mistake.

Your second is the ignorant accusation that atheism implies immorality and malevolence. I am friends with many atheists, some of the best, most loving, most dedicated, most compassionate and inspiring people I know happen to be atheists. Religious belief is absolutely no indication whatsoever of a persons ability to feel empathy and to be a decent person and an implication of such indicates a lack of empathy, something that is, to put it bluntly, inhuman.

To my fellow Christians and people of faith, an open letter from a Christian Socialist

When I drive my car, I see that people either have the Jesus fish on their car or the Darwin fish with legs. Well then, I must ask, why not both? An expression of the total acceptance of the Darwin fish, that all humans evolved from an ape-like ancestor, and, at the same time, the acceptance of the Jesus fish because religion and science are not mutually exclusive insofar as one does not subjugate reason to faith. Why, WHY must you object to the subjugation of your faith to reason?
 
I tell a grim warning, that our religion will die out in a few generations if you refuse to accept rudimentary, basic, undeniable scientific fact. It will die out completely if you cling to your outdated myths. It will die out completely if you cling to literalist interpretations of creation which are, in actuality, and because of their fundamentalist interpretation, illusions. Let’s not beat around the bush here, to think the earth is 6000 years old is an illusion, a fog of scientific denial and ignorance of material reality.
 
If your God is but an ever-receding pocket of scientific ignorance, and not the totality of the scientific endeavor, the force that set all matter into motion, then in 500 years or perhaps even less we will have disproven your foolish notion of ‘God’ and along with it all faiths that refuse to accept scientific fact will go into the dustbin of history.
 
Even more problematic is those that use my faith, and religion generally, to tell the oppressed and exploited people of the earth to work hard, accept their oppressive conditions, to be pacifists and refuse to change their conditions here on earth in hope of a better life after death! What mockery of the Christian legacy is that? No! True Christianity is an emancipatory doctrine firmly rooted in the principle that the meek shall inherit the earth, it is an emancipatory doctrine of liberation! Both liberation in the spiritual sense and thereby, necessarily, of those in this life here on this earth from poverty, oppression, and exploitation everywhere!
 
It is absolutely, positively, and irrevocably incompatible with capitalism, feudalism, and all class society, as well as all forms of systematic oppression and exploitation beyond their historical necessity. And it is against capitalism even more so than feudalism because of its foundations in the sins of greed, gluttony, and pride. It is not to be used as a tool to numb the pain of those who are oppressed but to rouse them up in an open and unrestrained fight against the oppressors and exploiters of the earth!
 
To promote Christianity is one thing, but the realization of the impossibility of secular Judeo-Christian ethics being the foundation of our social structure is another. As Christian Socialist James Connolly said, “We know that Christianity teaches us to love our neighbor as ourselves, but we also know that if a capitalist attempted to run his business upon that plan his relatives would have no difficulty in getting lawyers, judges and physicians to declare him incompetent to conduct his affairs in the business world… Personally I am opposed to any system wherein the capitalist is more powerful than God Almighty. You need not serve God unless you like, and may refuse to serve him and grow fat, prosperous and universally respected. But if you refuse to serve the capitalist your doom is sealed; misery and poverty and public odium await you. No worker is compelled to enter a church and to serve God; every worker is compelled to enter the employment of a capitalist and serve him. As Socialists we are concerned to free mankind from the servitude forced upon them as a necessity of their life; we propose to allow the question of all kinds of service voluntarily rendered to be settled by the emancipated human race of the future.”
Even to you self-proclaimed pacifists, when you assert that your religion, your church should be embodied in, officialized and have power over the state do you not realize what you are doing? The state is that organ in a given society that has a sole, absolute, and legitimate monopoly on violence. It is an inherently repressive institution whereby one class subjugates another by the police, the army, the courts, etc. In other words, by the barrel of a gun. What Christian, in their right mind could claim to be a pacifist and support anything but strict state secularism? And even those like me who are not pacifists, you cannot in your right mind support the state in capitalist society, a tool used to hold down the oppressed and not the oppressors. A tool used solely to keep the poor and bondage by enforcing and prolonging their exploitation.
 
What else is there to say? I admit wholeheartedly that the atheist’s criticism of religion is correct up to and excluding the point where it dictates the necessity of atheism. Take a look in the mirror, when I read the works of Karl Marx on issues such as religion, I, a religious person, find myself agreeing with him. What does that say about our faith? That it was Marx, a brilliant man no doubt, but an atheist, who first discovered and unveiled the laws that dominate human society and the capitalist economy at large? It was Marx, not a man of God, who correctly discovered such things. What does that say about us? Take a look in the mirror damn it! If you truly care about your faith, subjugate it to reason and scrutiny. Reject any and all literalist interpretations, especially those of creation, and stop using it as a tool to keep the oppressed and exploited people’s of the earth in bondage! Turn all organized religion upsidedown from a tool of the oppressor to a tool of the oppressed. You think religion is powerless and pacifistic, but in reality, it is a weapon. For centuries it has been used to hold down the oppressed. Now let it be used to encourage the oppressed to hold down the oppressors until the systematic exploitation of man by man is no more! What more can I say?